Building Catapults Required Engineering Know How

When building catapults, armies had to include in their ranks those people capable of employing complicated mathematical formulas and turning them into machines of war.

While their appearance on the warfare scene dramatically changed tactics for quite literally hundreds of years, it was no easy task for medieval armies to create the machines of war they needed to help ensure victory.

The engineers were generally responsible for the production or mass production of larger scale weapons on the battlefield and leading up battle. When building catapults on site, engineers had to rely on their own know how and the materials available to them, unless of course they transported the wood, sinew and in the case of some more complex catapults, the counterpoises and other materials with them.

When the idea was to create more simple machines such as ballistas or mangonels, the task of building catapults was much easier on site than let’s say a trebuchet, which often required extremely heavy materials. In the case of the ballistas and mangonels, the main ingredients – wood and rope or sinew – were a little easier for engineers to find. The difficulty came in getting these machines together in a big hurry for an impending siege. Since mass production factories and automation were years in the future, medieval armies had to rely on their own ingenuity to pull this off.

Engineers who were responsible for building catapults understood the intricacies of design, they knew the formulas behind the trajectory theory and they were smart enough to create ways to make their designs more mobile and easier to construct with haste.

When building catapults such as the ballista and mangonel, engineers only needed to create simple designs. The ballista, for example, required a platform, two wooden arms and tightly wound ropes. These machines could be built in advance and put on platforms for an army to move along with it. The mangonel, too, was similar, and producing catapults of this make required only one wooden arm. The drawback to both of these machines, however, was lack of accuracy, although mobility was a plus.

The great trebuchets created a different problem for those charged with building catapults. These much larger machines of war required a better understanding of physics and more, and heavier materials. Since they were known for their castle-wall crushing ability, building catapults of this design was often necessary on site.

Believed to have been created in 12 century France, the trebuchet used a long wooden arm rested on a pivot point to act as a larger level. When building catapults of this style, a very large projectile was also needed. Earlier versions called for warriors to pull on ropes to hurl the stone or object.

Although it wasn’t easy to fill an order on site, much like the modern day Army Corp of Engineers, their early counterparts understood what was necessary to go about building catapults. They knew, too, success or failure of their military campaign might depend on their ability to build catapults with speed and accuracy. With a wealth of knowledge stored in their heads – rather than in calculators – they set about putting these machines together onsite, or in the case of the more mobile models in advance.


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